While the UK is staking its renewable energy future in large measure upon wind power, British bats might not have much of a future if we don’t find a way to prevent turbines from killing them … either outright through collisions or via sudden depressurisation that causes their blood vessels to burst.
Many thousands of bats, which are protected in Europe, die each year while flying through wind farms. A 2004 study in the US reported more than 4,500 bat fatalities during a six-week period onjust two wind farms. Most turbine-related bat deaths occur during the autumn migratory period, and when turbines are spinning at speeds of less than 6 metres per second.
University of Aberdeen scientists Barry Nicholls and Paul Racey say the solution might be to aim a portable radar beam at bats’ foraging sites. In tests at 20 locations across Scotland, the use of radar appeared to keep between 30 and 40 per cent of bats away from areas with wind turbines. The researchers are now working to improve that percentage.
While birds also fall prey to wind turbines, they are more easily kept away with visual stimuli that make the technology easier to spot. Bats, on the other hand, navigate largely by hearing, so a different approach is needed to protect them.
Across the UK, some 2,381 turbines already spin on 206 operational wind farms. With plans to develop another 444 sites, the potential threat to both bats and birds will keep growing unless better protections are devised.